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Speaking on a webinar? Do these first!

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Interruptions, awkward camera angles, and background noises are all indications that you’re an amateur webinar presenter. Polish up your act by doing these 10 things first, to ensure you’re viewed as a professional (and asked to speak again!).

1. Use headphones
Most webinar tools allow you to connect via a telephone or VOIP. Using headphones helps minimize background noise, ensure your voice is heard clearly, and reduces the possibility of audio-feedback. I was once on a program where the busy street traffic and police sirens could be overheard on the speaker’s phone line… don’t be that person.

2. Close the door
You’re giving a presentation, and therefore it’s obvious that you find a quiet place to present. If you’re in your office, a space in your home, or a shared conference room, simply close the door. This is an indicator that you’re busy and shouldn’t be interrupted. Better yet, put a physical “Do Not Disturb, Recording in Progress” sign on your door to alert those nearby to keep their voices and potential disturbances to a minimum.

3. Put your phone on DND
Often overlooked are potential distractions from incoming calls and the occasional office page. Turn on the Do Not Disturb setting on your phone, which will both mute your office ringtone and disable others from being able to interrupt your phone line. Yes, I have been in a program before where the presenter’s phone line was automatically put “on hold” due to an incoming call into their line, triggering the dreadful “hold music” across the airwaves and therefore derailing the entire presentation.

4. Turn off pop-up notifications and alerts
These usually important attention getters will become points of frustration for you during a webinar. If you’re sharing your computer screen, it will become increasingly frustrating (as well as embarrassing) anytime an alert or pop-up comes through on your device, visible to all participants. Common ones to silence include: incoming email notifications and previews, in-office chats, text messages (if your cell is connected to your laptop), and calendar/task reminders. Not to mention, these also make distracting noises.

5. Mute your computer speakers
Again, this is an example of muting any device that may potentially disrupt your presentation unintentionally. Muting your computer speakers is a sure bet that you’ll minimize distractions (perhaps even from an unintended alert you forgot to turn off? See #4). Also, if you’re connecting to the audio line via VOIP through a headset plugged into your laptop, muting your computer speakers may also reduce the potential for audio feedback.

6. Charge all batteries
Again, it seems obvious, but when your mind is concentrated on preparing the content for your presentation, the obvious is commonly overlooked. Is your laptop charged or plugged in? Are you connecting via a cell, is it also fully charged? What about a computer mouse… usually used as your slide advancer. Yes, I have been on a webinar before when the presenter’s mouse batteries literally died during the webinar. Simply put in a fresh set beforehand and you’ll be assured you’re good to go.

7. Have water available
You’ll be speaking a lot. Keep your voice clear and drink plenty of water. Enough said.

8. Install updates and plug-ins in advance
Is your laptop scheduled to automatically install system updates? Does your webinar platform require a plug-in (lots do)? These updates and installs may be routine, but, if they’re prompted right before you’re set to speak, could put you off balance and render your device temporarily unavailable. Nothing’s worse then watching the dreadful “Updates in progress, this could take a while” notification take over your computer.

9. Print out a hard-copy of your slides or notes
In the event that something unexpected happens, it’s important to have a printed copy of your speaking points in front of you. I also use this paper copy to jot down notes, perhaps of something interesting that a prior speaker said that was worth mentioning again. Having a hard-copy of your materials is a simple way to ensure you’ll be prepared. One time during a presentation I accidentally bumped my desk and knocked the wire loose from the computer docking station to the external monitor. My screen went black while I was on the air. I continued presenting from my printed notes, and at the next break for Q/A, I promptly plugged the cord back into the dock. No one was the wiser, but see how this could have escaladed quickly?

10. Preview your camera shot
Check in advance to find out if the webinar will be featuring video feeds of the presenters. If yes, use a website like this to test out your camera shot before you go live. Things to check: your personal appearance (do your hair, make-up, sit up straight, and wear appropriate attire), lighting (you’ll want centered front-lit lighting which could be accomplished by repositioning a desk lamp and closing the curtains), camera angle (lens should look slightly down on you, which may require raising your laptop on a few books), what’s in your background (a blank wall with minimal distractions is best). This video demonstrates how to look good on webcam.

Presenting on a webinar has similarities to speaking live on stage. Both require quality audio, technology, and the reduction of distractions and interruptions. Use these steps as a guideline the next time you present on a webinar. What other tips and suggestions do you have? Share in the comments below!

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The Hitchhikers Guide to the CAE: Part 2

CAE brochure

So, you’ve committed to taking the CAE. Congrats! [Reality: Insert state of panic here!] Now direct your attention to the CAE Exam Content Outline and this guide. Seven steps stand between you and the designation. Here I offer for you a deconstruction of these “simple seven,” presented in reality from my experience.

Step 1: Review each competency statement. [Reality: A foreshadowing of the content that will be on your mind and in your nightmare dreams until exam day.] 

The composition of the CAE exam is supported by research on job tasks and knowledge needed by association executives. You can learn about that research here. Fundamentally, the CAE exam content is organized into nine domains, which are further ordered into 159 essential association management competencies. Plan to set aside a good amount of time to read these [Reality: I spent 2 hours.] because . . .

Step 2: Rate your confidence on each competency as “high, medium, or low.” [Reality: “I know this and could teach it,” “I pretend to know this and hope no one calls me out,” and “No clue what this means, is it really on the test?!”]

Here’s where I plug the value of the CAE Study Guide, which has a nice worksheet of the domains and a rating area to identify your confidence in this self-assessment (see Section 1: Getting Started, pages 11-24). After reading each statement carefully, take your time to really think about what it means and mark an honest assessment of your current understanding. After going through this once, I went back a second time, adjusting several to a lower confidence level. Be careful about making overly generous assumptions about your on-the-job experience. It may serve you well to initially underestimate your expertise and then discover through your studies that you actually know more.

Step 3: Note related professional development you have completed in the past five years. [Reality: Wish you’d actually been tracking this over the past five years.]

Here’s a puzzle: How many people does it take to help you track and validate the 100 hours for your CAE application? Answer: 10 or more. One, your association friend who trick-encouraged you to apply in the first place, to seek advice on where to start. Two, your nerdy MS Excel colleague who shares their tracking spreadsheet with you. Three, your brilliant co-worker who suggests who you look through your calendar over the past five years to identify webinars and programs you attended. Four, your secretary who actually looks through your calendar and catalogues these for you [Reality: If you’re that fortunate]. Five, your contact at ASAE who shares that your member profile contains a historical listing of all education through ASAE (see www.asaecenter.org > Login > My Account > Education History > Mind blown). [Reality: Why didn’t I know this already existed?!] Six and beyond, the ASAE Approved Providers that will be inevitably re-sending you the “course completion certificates” to validate how many hours your coursework acquired [Reality: I took courses with 15 different providers.]

Step 4: Develop a plan to strengthen areas of lower confidence and complete professional development requirements. [Reality: Find a way to squeeze in 20 more hours before the deadline to ensure you meet the 100-hour minimum.]

So you’ve tracked your hours, and perhaps you are short a few, or courses you took are not actually applicable for credit (converse to what you initially thought). Don’t panic. Now’s a great time to sign up for a quick webinar, attend a one-day training program, or work with a mentor to meet the requirements. Also, I suggest you go back to Step 2 and review your weaknesses; these are the areas in which you’ll want to dedicate the majority of your study time.

Step 5: Complete all requirements before submitting an application. [Reality: By now you should be eligible, or know when you will become eligible.]

Find a list of the eligibility requirements here. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read through the several pages on ASAE regarding the CAE. So much valuable content here!

Step 6: Plan to submit an application three months before you sit for the exam. [Reality: Put “submit application” on calendar two weeks before deadline. Calendar notification arrives, you laugh at your ambitions. Eventually and frantically submit at the last minute; 5 p.m. on deadline.]

Here’s where you need to know that the application review period is lengthy, and you’ll need to allow time to be approved and allowed to sit for the exam. You’ll likely check your email every day periodically to see if you’ve been approved. Give it time, you’ll be notified.

Step 7: Mark your calendar. The CAE Exam is given on the first Friday in May and the first Friday in December. [Reality: Countdown until this day arrives and the exam is over.]

This will be a day of excitement, nerves, and most importantly, celebration! Because regardless of whether you pass the exam or not, you’ll enjoy that this is behind you, and you can return to your regularly scheduled life. Good luck!

Note: This is the second of a two-part blog on preparing for the CAE exam. Read the first one here.

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The Hitchhikers Guide to the CAE: Part 1

Christina w Cert

Get in your time machine and go back two years. Imagine you’re at a dinner with ten peers and an accomplished C-Suite Exec. The food is delicious and the conversation is stimulating. Then someone mentions that they are pursuing their CAE. There is a grand pause. EVERYONE around the table nods their heads in agreement and admiration. For the first-time this evening you feel like an outsider. You have no idea what “CAE” is, but you nod your head too, not wanting appear misinformed, praying no one calls you out. Before long you learn that several others have obtained their CAE, including the C-Suite Exec. Words like “domains,” “LERP,” and “SPIE” spill out in conversation . . . Geez, more acronyms! Curious, you go home that night and look it up: The Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential through the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). Hmmm, sounds intimating.

This is how I first learned about the CAE, maybe you have a similar story? What I did next was most important. Three things stand out as I look back and map out my journey.

1. Ask around
The CAE was foreign to me. I asked a lot of my peers and mentors what it was all about, and why it was worth pursuing. What were their journeys like? At what stage in their career did they take the exam? Did they study? I got mixed responses, but one thing resounded clear: everyone’s journey was unique and personal. Mine was too.

2. Meeting the requirements
I spent a lot of time on ASAE’s CAE webpage. I had already met some CAE eligibility requirements, but did I have enough qualifying professional development activities to meet the 100 hours? To find out, I began meticulously cataloguing my hours in a spreadsheet. I found eligible hours in a variety of places: I looked through my ASAE profile (Login>My Account>Education History). I scanned through my work calendar from the past three years. I searched through my email for “CAE.” And I contacted both ASAE and the organizations that hosted programs to confirm those that were applicable. Sounds like a lot of work, and I’ll admit it was.

I was surprised to find out I had already accumulated 80 hours. Getting the final 20 was fairly easy: I signed up for free webinars.* It’s amazing how many free webinars are out there once you start looking. It doesn’t have to explicitly offer CAE credits to be applicable, programs that touch on any of the nine knowledge domains could count too. You can even count up to 10 CAE hours through mentoring and coaching, like I did.

3. Committing to take the exam
Next biggest decision: to take the exam in December or May? It’s only offered twice a year, and through my chats with peers, everyone encouraged me to take it when the content was fresh in my mind. Since my plan was to include three months of rigorous studying pre-exam, the decision on which month to take it was crucial. What three months were best for me to invest studying time? Were there any conflicts with the exam dates (maybe a work conference or board meeting already scheduled?).

Fast forward and it’s now six months out from the time I would take the exam. Now it’s November, and I was pregnant with my second and due New Year’s Eve. For me I was either committing to taking the exam the following May (studying during maternity leave and a potential job transition) or choosing to wait until the following December (several months down the road, when I’d have two young kids running around). Yeah, I chose May. The nail in the coffin was when a wise woman told me that she studied while going through a massive renovation on her home. Literally, no running water. If she was successful at that time, then I could be too.

If you take anything from this article, know that the CAE is only as daunting as you allow it to be. Smart time invested in learning about the process and other’s experiences can be time well spent. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, in which I share my study plan and exam prep process.

Congrats to those who have decided to pursue their CAE, and good luck as you begin the adventure!

*Free webinars can be found at ASAE’s upcoming events page, the Wild Apricot blog with a listing of monthly free webinars, Collaborate events page, and the CAE Candidate community.

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